The Transition in Nectar in a Sieve

This post by Hasanki Kasthuriarachchi discusses about is the story of Rukmani  just the story of a village in transition? She is an exciting writer now working as a guest writer to Litspring.


      The novel Nectar in a Sieve, the title inter-textured from one of the colridge’s poems, is a sentimental story that revolves predominantly around Rukmani and her family, composed by an Indian Novelist Kamala Markandaya. As far as the novel is concerned, Markandaya employs two plots: personal and social wise through Rukmani’s observations, experiences, and varied comments. While considering the story, obviously it brings out the impacts of village transition or in other words social transition, notably Rukmani’s story is not only based on the transition in the village but more as a beloved companion to the husband, a mother, a radical woman of dedication and ethics.

       Accordingly, the plot mainly states about the social transformation of India from the feudalistic system to commercialization. Nathan and Rukmani are the embodiments of feudalism, who cultivate the land as tenants. Even though the tenants work by heart, in the end, they remain nothing but handing over the harvest to the landlord who never appears in front.


“ IN ALL THE YEARS OF OUR TENANCY WE NEVER SAW THE ZEMINDAR WHO OWNED our land. Sivaji acted for him, and being kindly, humane man we counted ourselves lucky. Unlike some, he did not extract payment in kind to the last grain; ….”


      In contrast to feudalism, commercialization brings advantages as well as repercussions by being money and labor centered. The feudalistic village of Rukmani turns the first step to commercialization, through the symbolic change of the tannery building which was built.


“ It is the new tannery they are building”


“ There is no going back. Bend like the grass, that you do not break.”


        Significantly, the novelist does not mention the name of the particular village, intending that the story is not only about Rukmani’s family or the particular village, but about the whole Indian country sides at that time.


       Nonetheless, whatever the erratic situation created by either modernized society or fate, it is apt that Rukmani and the family survive. For example when Rukmani finds out the shocking news of Kunthi’s sons fathered by Nathan, conciliate as a far more mature woman than a typical wife who would break the knot in the next second when she found out about her husband’s betrayal. Thus it is evident that Rukmani is a woman of noble qualities.

“ It is as you say a long time ago, That she is evil and powerful I know myself. Let it rest.”


       Therefore the above-extracted part clearly illustrates how Rukmani being a typical Indian wife protects her marriage knot possessing several values in her character. The story is a composition of the social facts in effect to the life blended with Rukmani’s fate. Village transition is only an external fact that Rukmani faces in her life. The social transition affects the family of Rukmani in a certain way but they manage to survive with the twin forces of Hope and Fear. For instance, when considering the Dipavali celebrations, they celebrate the occasion with love and harmony even though they face a lot of troubles.


“My husband looked at me solemnly. ‘I will,’ he said, and dropping his sons he seized me and swung me high up, in front of all those people.”

         The novel showcases the transition of East toward West since the transition has different ways. As an impact of the tannery, the village turns into a multi-ethnic social setup. Before it was only the village Indians and with gradual industrialization through the tannery, Muslims also are a part of the village community. Even though the multi-ethnicity is a merit of industrialization, there are some demerits too. The characters like Kunthi, and Ira are the victims of pioneered westernization that lacks social ethos.


“It was as simple as that: we forbade she insisted, we lost. So we got used to her comings and goings as we got used to so much else.”


        It is quite clear through the excerpt that Rukmani and her family have a passive reconciliation in her life whatever the situation they face. Sometimes it is good to be flexible in situations like tolerating the tannery afterward. But sometimes Rukmani’s passive acceptance is more like foolishness than good quality. 


       Moreover, according to the descriptions done by Rukmani as a narrator, at the outset of the novel, she states that Selvam works at Kenny’s hospital. Therefore Kenny’s hospital is the epitome of western medication. Subsequently, the novel provides a cross-section of Indian society. When the village transits the lives of the residents gradually change as well, just like Ira lost her conventional morality in front of commercialization. 


       At the same time, the saga brings insight into another transition of passive acceptance in contrast to rising the voice for rights. Kenny despite being a White person considers the lives of the villagers in an empathetic way and persuades them to struggle for their rights. But unfortunately, the typical villagers never attempt. The perfect example is Rukmani, who is told to speak for the rights but never understands what Kenny means. Nonetheless, the younger generation such as Arjun and Thambi appear as strugglers to win their rights and stand against exploitation, even though they undergo the hard repercussions. Rukamani’s sons Arjun, Thambi, and Selvam never want to be tenants who spend their whole lifetime cultivating for some other’s benefit. In opposition to their contemplation, the peasantry is the lifeblood of Rukmani and Nathan and they never want to come out of that obsession. On that account, the novelist reiterates how Rukmani never transits in her notions withal the village does.


         On top of that, when Nathan and Rukmani visit the city in search of their son Murugan, they face a lot of trouble being alienated in an unknown wen. Despite all the hardships the couple survives and ‘Part Two’ of the novel is wholely about their life in the town.




        In the bargain, Rukmani and the family survive when nature tortures them the most. For an instance, just after the monsoonal rains destructs their harvest and on different grounds when the drought acts callously upon them the family stays firm and hopes for a better day. Overtly, what brings them forwards in life is the hope they possess. In every circumstance, Rukmani figures as a frugal, shrewd woman who is more like the right hand to Nathan.




‘There is nothing,’ Nathan repeated. ‘Do you not see the crops are dead? There has been no rain and the river is dry.’

                Hence, Rukmani’s story is a blend of harmony and struggle they went through. The story showcases how Rukmani becomes a farsighted companion to Nathan as a conventionally moral women. The heading of village transitions is one of the key factors that affect Rukmani and her family. But the social transition is not the only thing in their lives. Fate acts upon them sometimes as natural hazards or as a separation from children and yes as social factors as well: commercialization, transition, etc. On account of that Rukmani is the one who holds the family as a unit whatever the situation is. She could have taken a decision vigorously when she founds out about the adulteration between Nathan and Kunthi. On the other hand, she could have changed with the gradual change of society either to come out of poverty or for her pleasure. But Rukmani stays firm in her conventionality when every other person does not. 


          Thus to put it in a nutshell, the novel is about Rukmani’s family as a unit who face struggles caused naturally and socially in life, and hopefully survive until they find the ultimate sieve in life. 


How would you view the transition of the life in and around the character of Rukmani in the novel Nectar in a Sieve. Leave a thoughtful comment for the improvement of the post. If you find this post useful to others, please do share it using the social share buttons below.      




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